Divine Intervention: The role of the Pentecostal Church in Democratic Backlash in Africa

Date, time: 4 December 2020, 16.00-17.00
Webinar: Zoom link coming soon
To what extent has the Pentecostal church shaped politics in sub-Saharan states? To what extent is the church a part of the current wave of democratic backlash? Is the church even a part of this backlash?
After a widespread demand for human rights and economic prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s, a democratisation wave flushed over the continent of Africa. Today, most African countries have multi-party elections and have a clear division between electoral, legislative, executive, and legal institutions. However, behind the electoral curtains, authoritarian powers thrive. From the criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people to the quashing of free media outlets, African countries are currently experiencing a massive backlash against democracy. At the same time, the role of the church is becoming ever more crucial in African societies, both at the individual level and at the policy level. Today, the Pentecostal church is the fastest-growing church on the African continent, and according to a Pew analysis, the church has become increasingly visible in conventional politics, bringing its community into the public debate with real consequences for processes of government.
This panel discussion will explore to what extent and how the Pentecostal church interacts with the democratic process in Africa. It will feature Paul Gifford (SOAS), Elizabeth Sperber (University of Denver) and Lise Rakner (University of Bergen) and will be chaired by Caroline Borge Bjelland (LawTransform). The webinar is a part of LawTransform’s Breaking BAD project.
Paul Gifford (SOAS), Emeritus Professor of Religions and Philosophies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Gifford has published numerous journal articles and books concerning Christianity and its public role in Africa. Among his publishments on the topic are prominent books such as “Christianity, Politics and Public Life in Kenya” and “Ghana’s New Christianity. Pentecostalism in a Globalising African Economy”.
Elizabeth Sperber (University of Denver). Professor Sperber is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver and specialises in comparative politics with regional expertise in sub-Saharan Africa. Sperber is the co-author of the award-winning journal article “Pentecostal Identity and Citizen Engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Evidence from Zambia”, co-authored with Erin Hern.
Lise Rakner (University of Bergen) is a professor of Comparative Politics at the University of Bergen, and a political scientist focusing on democratisation with a particular emphasis on Southern and Eastern Africa. She is also one of the project leaders of the Breaking BAD project and a LawTransform affiliate.